Fear of Twine

The Matter of the Great Red Dragon

Fear of Twine is an online exhibition of text-based games made by a highly diverse group of people from all around the world. It’s not just diverse in its list of authors, though: it has everything from fantasy to horror to science fiction to deeply personal explorations of kink to abstract political fiction about working-class politics. The site’s a little minimalistic, but the content is fantastically rich.

Fear of Twine features my new Lands of Dream game, The Matter of the Great Red Dragon. I know I’m supposed to be either insincerely humble or ridiculously boastful for the purposes of marketing, but the truth is that I’m just really happy that I got to make this game. It turned out exactly as I wanted it to and thinking about it gives me the warm, fuzzy feeling of having met some old friends and found that we still get along. So there you go. I hope you enjoy it.

Fear of Twine also includes Verena’s first solo game, Zombies and Elephants. Personally, I think it’s pretty awesome, with a lot more layers to it than the title might suggest (as is true of a lot of pulp fiction), but then again I may be biased. (I’m not. I’m a very harsh critic.) I know there are still a couple of things that Verena would like to change, but you know what they say about art. It’s full of the undead.

There’s a lot more to Fear of Twine, though I can’t figure out how to start another sentence with it. I haven’t played all the games yet, but I should definitely mention Abstract State-warp Machines by my dear friend and accomplished, original poet Ivaylo Shmilev. Interactive science fiction poetry! You’re in for a challenge and a treat. (And then there’s Workers in Progress by Konstantinos Dimopoulos and Truth is Ghost by Joel Goodwin and and and…)

I hope this exhibition will gain some traction with the press. I don’t think there’s ever been anything quite like it, and it deserves some attention.

(The site was recently updated, by the way, and is now more accessible.)

Project Update

Crows!

I recently finished my text game for the upcoming Fear of Twine exhibition. It’s called The Matter of the Great Red Dragon, is set in the Lands of Dream, and has turned out quite wonderful, even though the whole thing came to me in a flash at the last minute, after I’d thrown my original idea out the window. I don’t mean to brag, I’m just really happy with how it turned out. You should be able to play it in a week.

I am now returning to work on The Council of Crows, which may or may not be a working title. This is a short(er) Lands of Dream game – bigger than The Book of Living Magic but not as huge as The Sea Will Claim Everything – and will be free to all those who supported our Indiegogo. The rest of you will be able to get it for an affordable sum. Chris Christodoulou has written absolutely fantastic music for it, and Verena has drawn some of her most evocative art so far. I think it’ll be beautiful.

(The screenshot is old and a little unpolished, but that’s pretty much what it looks like.)

Incidentally, this game was supposed to come out much earlier, but I ran into a serious problem with how Windows 7 handles fonts in Multimedia Fusion games, and had to engineer an ugly but functional solution. This has also caused a delay for Ithaka of the Clouds, but don’t complain – you’re getting a free game!

(If your text looks weird and a bit jagged in The Sea Will Claim Everything, it’s a Windows feature called ClearType. There’s nothing I can currently do about it, so if it bothers you, you’ll have to turn it off before playing. I’m very sorry about this, and more than a little irritated. There doesn’t appear to be a simple solution, and I cannot currently go back and rewrite all the code for a game that sells almost nothing. Thankfully, not that many people seem to have had this problem or noticed it.)

I’m also working on a few other projects in parallel, including a platformer and another text game which… pertains to the Lands of Dream, to slightly paraphrase Dunsany. In fact, I’m quite in love with text games at the moment. Or actually with writing in general. Every now and then I get a chance to do really write and I remember that writing is actually what I’m all about.

And then there’s the Secret Project I’m Not Allowed To Tell You About, which does not involve squirrels, scorpions, or the use of the word “pronk.”

Exciting times. Now to just convince my body to defeat the common cold.

Class and Identity

Rosa Luxemburg

Debates between identitarians and socialists often break down around one central point of contention: identitarians believe that a movement for change must be inclusive towards all oppressed identities, and accuse socialists of “class reductionism,” which to them translates as “you only want to fight for your identity, which is defined by class.” This is wildly inaccurate, but not in the sense that the opposite is true; rather, it stems from a complete misunderstanding of socialist thought and history.

Identitarians, particularly those who believe in intersectionality, see the world as consisting of a complex set of overlapping systems of identity-based oppression, in which people experience different amounts of “privilege” according to how oppressed or un-oppressed their intersecting identities are. Class is usually ignored in these debates, which tend to focus on “race” and gender, but sometimes an effort is made to include it. The intersectionalist view of class, then, is that it is another form of social identity. Matt Bruenig very accurately sums up how this view of class simply can’t fit into the identitarian framework:

The fundamental problem with cramming poor people into the identitarian framework is that, unlike every other identity treated in that framework, justice for poor people requires their elimination. The appropriate remedy to racial oppression is not to make everyone white, nor is the appropriate remedy to gender oppression to make everyone male. But the appropriate remedy to the “oppression of the poor” (as identitarians describe it) is to make them no longer poor. Poorness is not an identity to be celebrated or lifted up; it is an identity to be done away with altogether. The oppression of poor people is that they are poor people. The same cannot be said for any other marginalized group.

– Matt Bruenig, Identitarianism’s class problem

Identitarians, then, usually aren’t actually concerned with class; they’re concerned with classism. Their objection is to the way snotty rich (or middle-class) people treat poor people, not to the system that produces these divisions in the first place, and – as with other forms of identity – their suggested solutions usually come down to a fairer integration into the capitalist system, or measures that will allow a small percentage of people (ideally artists, activists or academics) to achieve middle-class status.

Since identity politics, and therefore intersectionality theory, are a bourgeois politics, the possibilities for struggle are also bourgeois.  Identity politics reproduces the appearance of an alienated individual under capitalism and so struggle takes the form of equality among groups at best, or individualized forms of struggle at worst.

– Eve Mitchell, I am a Woman and a Human: A Marxist-Feminist Critique of Intersectionality Theory

In the identitarian view, class should be treated as no more or less important than any of the other forms of social identity. To elevate it beyond that disregards the other identities and is therefore racist, sexist, oppressive, reductionist, etc. But in the Marxist sense, class isn’t a social identity; class is a relationship to the means of production. It’s not just that the solution to the class problem is different; it’s that “class” describes an entirely different manner of thing. I can’t emphasize this enough: Marxism isn’t elevating one identity over another, because it never assumes that an economic function in capitalism is the same as a social or cultural identity. Nor is class a personal issue – it doesn’t matter whether the rich are nice or mean, whether the poor are saintly or beastly. It’s not about how one defines oneself or what is offensive and what isn’t. It’s about how production is organized. Who owns the factories? Who owns the land? Who owns the housing? How are resources distributed? How is this vast and impressive apparatus of workers, technology and knowledge employed?

Marxism examines the structure of our economic system and finds that the entire thing is geared towards creating profit for one very small class of people, while completely failing to represent the interests of the majority of people – the people who actually do all the work, but own none of the results. This isn’t because the people who profit from this system are lacking in awareness of their privilege, or because they are classist. It has absolutely nothing to do with them as individual people, their social identities or minority status. A disabled black female capitalist is exactly the same as an able-bodied white male capitalist in the function they serve in the system, which is also why electing people of a different social identity has never by itself made a political difference.

The relationship between class and identity as understood by socialists is also quite different from that of identity politics. Identity politics is built around ideology; that is to say, it sees the world as being primarily shaped by how we think about it. Socialism, on the other hand, argues that ideology exists to justify material conditions. Identity politics believes that slavery happened because of racism; socialism argues that racism was invented to justify slavery, but the real cause of slavery was – to put it bluntly – money¹.

Where identitarianism seeks to somehow unify the world’s often highly contradictory personal narratives of oppression into a coherent idea of social justice, Marxism looks at what makes the system itself tick, and finds that the vast majority of people have something very real in common: their position within the economy, i.e. their relationship to capital and the means of production. It’s around this that it seeks to rally people – not around moral or personal judgement, but around their objective common interests. Ideologies of social division, in the socialist view, mainly exist to keep people from realizing precisely those interests. Divide and conquer, as they say.

Socialism does not seek to unify people on the level of social, national or cultural identity; it is inherently internationalist and transcultural, because it operates on a completely different level. But that’s precisely why socialism is emancipatory by necessity: because to unite the working class means to unite people across the barriers of identity. The concept itself is inclusive, and cannot be realized without the inclusion of the majority of people, including people of all social identities. Nor does it exclude those who wish to see systemic change but belong to the upper classes; after all, it’s about reorienting the goals and methods of the system, not about personal moral judgement or the condemnation of people because of an accident of birth. Socialism does not posit some sort of economic equivalent of Original Sin that makes people unable to see beyond their own lives.

The latter point is particularly important since, as Ross Wolfe has convincingly argued, the origins of identity politics lie with a perversion of socialism itself:

Historically, identitarian ideology is a product of the failure of the Left. The various forms of identity politics associated with the “new social movements” coming out of the New Left during the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s (feminism, black nationalism, gay pride) were themselves a reaction, perhaps understandable, to the miserable failure of working-class identity politics associated with Stalinism coming out of the Old Left during the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s (socialist and mainstream labor movements). Working-class identity politics — admittedly avant la lettre — was based on a crude, reductionist understanding of politics that urged socialists and union organizers to stay vigilant and keep on the lookout for “alien class elements.” Any and every form of ideological deviation was thought to be traceable to a bourgeois or petit-bourgeois upbringing. One’s political position was thought to flow automatically and mechanically from one’s social position, i.e. from one’s background as a member of a given class within capitalist society.

Anyone whose working-class credentials were not considered impeccable were expected to go through rituals of self-criticism or “autocritique” [from самокритика, a crucial shibboleth in the Stalinist vocabulary] confessing one’s incorrigible bourgeois intellectual habits in order to purify himself. Maoism radicalized this with application Third World and minority contexts. Indeed, much of the tedious discourse of “privilege-checking” derives from this […]

Ross Wolfe, “Identity” – the bane of the contemporary left

The catastrophic failure of the international Left in the face of Stalinism is a lesson in the dangers of identity politics – not only for advocates of intersectionality, but for all those who wish to cause meaningful changes to society, including socialists. It’s not possible to build a progressive movement around concepts of cultural or personal purity. No matter how oppressed one is, no matter what horrors one has experienced, genuine systemic change can only occur through an understanding of the objective issues that bind us together; only through the struggle to change the material conditions that produce ideologies of discrimination can we finally destroy those ideologies and create a society in which people can be free.

Either we’re fighting for everyone, or we’re fighting each other.

Footnotes:

  1. This is clearly a simplification for the purpose of explaining the principle. Note that by racism I mean the belief in biological races, not xenophobia in general, and by slavery I mean the African slave trade, which predates such theories. This was originally a bit clearer, before an edit removed some quotes that I felt were driving the article off course. The main point is that the root of slavery was financial interests, not hatred of black people.

Links! 18/01/2014

saloniki

Hey, it’s four in the morning and I can’t sleep, so here are some links!

  • I’m currently reading “Debt: The First 5000 Years” by David Graeber, and it’s gone from highly interesting to immensely frustrating. This review over at The Charnel-House is the best I’ve found so far, though I could probably add a lot more to what is said there. (I may do so at some point.) For the moment I’d just like to say that this book is the perfect illustration of why ideology, no matter how liberal and well-intentioned, is not a solid base upon which to build one’s analyses.
  • Nine Problems with Identitarianism. “Demanding respect for people as blacks and gays can go along with notably rigid strictures as to how one is to be an African American or a person with same-sex desires.” —Kwame Anthony Appiah
  • Ever wonder what kind of people the EU is so desperate to keep in power in Greece? It’s the folks responsible for this kind of thing: “A man who created a Facebook page poking fun at a revered Greek Orthodox monk has been sentenced to 10 months in prison in Greece after being found guilty of blasphemy.” Also a very useful illustration of why it’s a terrible idea to support laws that make it illegal to offend people’s beliefs.
  • You know all those stories about out-of-control public spending? Here’s a real case, but one no politician wants to do anything about. “Vast amounts of public money, running into billions, are spent every year on policies that make devastating floods inevitable.”
  • Adaptive infant aerodynamics: a beautiful marriage of physics and biology.
  • Steven Brust writes about History and Objectivity. I find the idea that “there can be no such thing as objectivity in history” as annoying as he does.
  • I was recently reminded of Second-Hand Elf, an article I wrote for the Escapist. Still rather fond of that one, and of the others I wrote for that site as well. One thing a lot of people don’t seem to get, though: shitty modern fantasists aren’t stealing from Tolkien. They’re stealing from people who stole from people who stole from people who misunderstood Tolkien. Today’s clichéd “elves and dwarves” resemble Tolkien’s magnificent creations only in the vaguest of ways. The same is true of Peter Jackson’s “adaptations” of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit: they have more in common with Dungeons & Dragons than with Tolkien’s actual words.
  • I’m enjoying Saints Row: The Third just as much as I enjoyed its predecessor. Now here’s an argument for games as art! They’re not unlike the Lands of Dream games, really: the insane attention to detail, the belief that silliness and seriousness aren’t mutually exclusive, the giddy sense of freedom behind many of the storytelling choices… it’s one of the few games to make me laugh out loud on a regular basis. And I want to quote every single line of the dialogue.
  • If you made a TV series out of the Lands of Dream, it would be a lot like The Mighty Boosh (and especially like the episode linked to here, The Priest and the Beast). Except more melancholic, and, you know, communistic. You have no idea how much I would like to do that. Maybe someday…
  • Today’s music is Mark Knopfler, We Can Get Wild. I find this song inexplicably moving and sad.

Winter Blues

sky

Every now and then, I get hit by a big fuck-off wave of depression. I feel paralyzed, constantly exhausted, unable to focus. I get insomnia and my rhythm goes out of whack and I go to bed at five in the morning and wake up at two in the afternoon. Sometimes I have brief panic attacks, but mostly I just can’t get myself to do anything, and I become increasingly stressed out by the fact that I’m falling behind schedule. When I do work, I work far more slowly than I should. I start eating too much and regain what little weight I’d managed to drop in the summer. I feel trapped in a bubble of anxiety and apathy, which is an extremely annoying combination.

This usually happens in the winter. It’s a common, well-documented problem for people who grew up in sunny countries. I can’t stand the winters in Germany, especially in Frankfurt, a soulless city dedicated mostly to banking. It’s OK when it snows – the brightness cheers me up and it’s funny to see the cat jumping around in the garden to avoid getting wet – but that only happens very rarely. I dread the winters, I really do. No matter what I do, no matter how much I try to distract myself, I end up falling into this hole. (I tried to capture some of that in Moonlight.) That’s why I keep talking about moving; it’s not just about finances or cultural preferences, it’s about survival. I’m not suicidal, I never have been, but these periods of depression feel like a real threat to me, and the effect of each winter seems to be cumulative.

This is my eleventh winter in Frankfurt. I don’t know how I’ll get through it, and I can barely imagine a twelfth… or a twentieth. So I go into these endless loops of “How do I get out of here? What can we do? Where can we go?” that lead nowhere. Moving to another country presents a long list of problems. Moving whithin Germany seems like giving up on ever getting out of here, a guarantee that we’ll still be trapped here ten years from now. There are many advantages to living where we do. And so on.

I realize, of course, that a major part of my depression could simply be described as capitalism. I think that’s true of a lot of people, whether they’re aware of it or not. Too many things are lacking: opportunities, a sense of community, a real safety net, even just a collective future for the species that is worth looking forward to. Life really is getting shittier. It’s not in your head; it’s the natural result of an extremely uneven distribution of resources. Unfortunately, knowing that doesn’t constitute a solution to my depression. I might feel better if I thought there was a real global movement to end this absurd situation, but there isn’t, at least not yet. What passes for the Left these days is as alienating and depressing as everything else.

And don’t even get me started on game development. The only way I can justify still working on this stuff is the hope that someday, maybe a couple of decades after my death, someone will actually go and have a detailed look at what I’ve done. Working for a future audience is not the most encouraging of activities. (I do appreciate the few hundred people who really love the Lands of Dream. But on days like these it’s hard not to be frustrated about the critical acclaim that seems exclusively reserved for juvenile shit that wouldn’t be taken seriously for a second in a more mature artform. It’s easier to appreciate the good stuff on the depression-free days.)

I hate the place depression has taken up in modern culture. It seems almost impossible to talk about such a phenomenon in a rational way. Half the world fetishizes it into some kind of badge of artistic honour and personal depth while the other half dismisses its existence altogether. The solutions suggested are either “always take these drugs, no matter the context” or “no, never take anything chemical, eat this endangered species’ butthole instead!” As with so many other things, nobody seems to want to fix any of the problems; they either want to hide them or redefine them into advantages (or, God help us, identities).

Having this problem doesn’t make me special. It’s not a mystery that you can never comprehend or an excuse for me to feel better, deeper, or more oppressed than other people. But it is a problem, and it’s not easy to deal with. Still, that’s all you can do.

Try to get through another winter.

My 2013

arkas

2013 was a weird year. I didn’t release a single game. But I worked. I worked unbelievably hard. I wrote and designed and programmed and squingled and boingled and frummed. And it’s all really awesome stuff, too, big promising projects that in many ways are unlike my previous work. Some of them are even so secret that I’m not allowed to tell you about them. (Seriously.) I’ll be releasing stuff nonstop next year. It’ll be madness. You won’t be able to keep up. It may start raining goats.

I’m in a strange place when it comes to games, though. As my toolset for making games grows, I keep experiencing these amazing moments of inspiration, much like when I first thought about making games. I’m more excited about the possibilities than I’ve ever been. Simultaneously, though, I’m about as disenchanted with the games “scene” as you can possibly be. It often feels like there’s absolutely no point in making games with any kind of artistic or intellectual ambition; when critics say that games need to evolve to a higher level of storytelling, they mean the level of a mediocre TV series. If you go beyond that, they won’t even recognize it. There are a few exceptions, and I’m glad they exist, but I can think of no other medium where there is such a catastrophic lack of critical depth. (I think it’s mostly due to the cultural isolation of video games from other art forms.)

Anyway, as a result of that, there are some projects that I’ve decided aren’t worth making as games. They were stories where I was on the brink, undecided as to whether they’d be better as games or in some other form, and I’ve come to the conclusion that making games feels too much like screaming into a void. To start new game projects with the intellectual and artistic complexity of the Lands of Dream would feel like too much of a waste. So I just want to finish what I started, make those games that I feel have a chance, and then stop. Or maybe semi-retire, focus mainly on writing for other people and making a game of my own every few years. Something like that. 2014 will bring a veritable explosion of games, including Ithaka of the Clouds. That explosion may continue into 2015. But not too long after that I’m going to be done. 2013 made the necessity of that very clear to me: I can’t keep making games for the rest of my life. I never wanted to. At least not as my primary occupation. I’m a writer, and I need to write.

My favourite piece of concept art.

Speaking of Ithaka of the Clouds, the crowdfunding campaign was one of the biggest things that happened to me this year. It was great to see that while the Lands of Dream may not have a huge audience, they do have a very real and very dedicated audience. It was not only gratifying, but also immensely helpful – thanks to the crowdfunding campaign (and Verena’s tireless work), our finances have gone from Argh to Surviving, which is a pretty big deal. And I can’t wait to show you Ithaka. It’s still a few months away, but it will have been worth it.

03

Less financially lucrative, but also thoroughly important, was the release of our children’s book, Στη σκιά του Αόρατου Βασιλιά (In the Shadow of the Invisible King). Perispomeni Publications did a great job producing the book, and the reaction has been magnificent. It hasn’t reached as many people as it might have a few years ago – people in Greece are desperately poor, and due to its size and quality the book is quite expensive – but the people who did buy it loved it. And not just parents, either! Verena and I have always said that people underestimate children, and I’m glad we were right about that. Children weren’t scared of the dark parts of the book, weren’t freaked out by the weirder ideas, and weren’t confused by the book’s political and philosophical contents. After all, all of those are the ingredients of a good adventure story, and that’s what we wanted the book to feel like: an adventure. (I know, I know. Translations. Looking into it.)

marx

2013 was also the year in which I became persona non grata to a section of the indie games scene that I used to have a fair amount of contact with. In hindsight, I’m not particularly surprised that happened; the ideology of that particular group of people is so prone not only to fragmentation, but to the personal demonization of dissenters, that it makes the communist Left look like one big happy family. It was my article Would You Kindly Not that started the avalanche, but I realize now that the pressure had been building for some time, and I was getting increasingly uncomfortable with the reinforcement of most thoroughly racist and sexist ideas. I’m sorry for these harsh words, since I think a lot of the people involved aren’t aware of how shockingly imperialist, capitalist and US-centric their views are, but it got to a point where I could not live with myself if I didn’t speak up. Perhaps it would have been wiser to simply cut off all contact immediately, but at the time I hadn’t fully realized just how deeply these problems went, and I was under the impression that a culture of open debate was something most people on the Left desired. Now I know that, for the most part, American “anarchism” is not that closely related to the international kind, being more of a warmed-up liberalism, or even neoliberalism.

It’s depressing to think that even in 2013, the most radical perspective one could take of human beings is that they’re all equal. Hobsbawm may have had his issues, but this quote still sums it all up for me:

So what does identity politics have to do with the Left? Let me state firmly what should not need restating. The political project of the Left is universalist: it is for all human beings. However we interpret the words, it isn’t liberty for shareholders or blacks, but for everybody. It isn’t equality for all members of the Garrick Club or the handicapped, but for everybody. It is not fraternity only for old Etonians or gays, but for everybody. And identity politics is essentially not for everybody but for the members of a specific group only. This is perfectly evident in the case of ethnic or nationalist movements. Zionist Jewish nationalism, whether we sympathize with it or not, is exclusively about Jews, and hang — or rather bomb — the rest. All nationalisms are. The nationalist claim that they are for everyone’s right to self-determination is bogus.

– Eric Hobsbawm, Identity Politics and the Left

I can’t say the fallout from writing Would You Kindly Not didn’t affect me. I think what bothered me most were the personal attacks – not the political disagreement, but the sudden attacks on my character and the character of my friends, especially coming from people I’d always supported. I’m talking about shameful, outrageous slander against people who’ve never stood for anything other than equality and freedom. (And by the way, why isn’t it outrageous to accuse others of causing suicides, but controversial to say it’s not OK to judge others by their ethnicity?) By now I realize that this is how the entire “social justice movement” functions, but at the time the viciousness and childishness of it all was a little shocking. I was also depressed by the sheer number of people belonging to groups that one might categorize as oppressed who wrote to me saying “I’m X, I agree with or don’t have a problem with what you’re saying, I think the reaction is horrible, but I can’t say something in public because I’m afraid of being bullied.” And I don’t even blame them – look at how the people who did speak up were treated!

It’s mostly behind me now, or at least I hope so. I’m still writing about political theory, so identity politics does naturally crop up, but I try not to mention any names, and I block anyone involved with bullying tactics on Twitter. Occasionally someone will have a moment of self-righteousness about how evil I am (opposed to justice, not wanting people to have bodily autonomy, other things that completely oppose anything I’ve ever said), but generally they’re too busy hating each other, and I fully understand now how pointless it is to argue with people who thrive on outrage. If this is their niche, and this is how they make a name and an income for themselves, fine. I wish them no harm. But I’m glad they’re out of my life, even if I am now a “controversial” person who is less likely to receive support from the community.

cats

On a much happier note, 2013 was also a year in which I made several new friends, partially out of this controversy; it’s inspiring to discover that there are people in every part of this world who don’t fall for the neosegregationist propaganda, who enjoy art that engages with the world out there and not just with the distorted images in the mirror and the invisible lines that divide us; people who give me hope that the hateful voices are just a very loud minority. I am really grateful for having met you all, and for the continuing friendship of many others. I know you all struggle with the inanity and insanity of the modern world as much as I do, so I’m deeply thankful for your kindness, your support, and your terrible jokes. Don’t give up, comrades! The revolution is coming any century now.

Finally, Verena remains the cute octopus that holds together my raft of log-shaped dream metaphors. I wouldn’t get anything done without her. Well, I would, but I would probably drown in the process, and then who would get up in the middle on the night to let the cat in? Ghosts would, yes, but then there would be ghosts everywhere, and you know how they are. So I’m glad we’re all still alive and healthy, more or less. Especially the cat. She’s the best.

Our favourite monster.

And so I’ll end on that hopeful note, without dwelling on all the other unpleasant stuff.

Watch out for the koalas.

A Puppet of Yourself

Soon

Quick, listen to me. You’re in grave danger. If you don’t act, bad things will happen. I’m serious.

Your brain is dying.

You’re under constant assault. Right now. All the time. Your mind is a battlefield.

The enemy is not Error or Sin. The enemy is oblivion. The enemy is losing your ability to think, to criticize, to see the world as it is instead of how it’s convenient to see it.

You’re not alone in this battle. We’re all fighting it. No-one is exempt from brain rot. We’re all falling apart, all the time. Getting closer to death with every passing day, holding ourselves together by a combination of inertia and willpower that borders on transcendence. Always teetering on the edge of idiocy.

The enemy is out there: in the media, in society, in capitalism. It is capitalism. But it’s also in here: in easy solutions, in intellectual shortcuts, in comforting delusions.

The world is bombarding you with puerile stupidity. The things you see every day aren’t just a little daft. They’re braindead. They’re shit. The world is shovelling shit into your head and telling you no, this shit isn’t so bad; in fact, this shit is good, this shit is so shitty that it’s art. You’re dying because your brain is full of shit. We’re all collectively drowning in a diarrhetic ocean of shit ideas.

You’re killing yourself too, though. It’s not your fault, it really isn’t, but it’s happening anyway. You’re killing yourself with an overdose of tedium, sophistry and cliché. You’re dying of monotony and routine. Another set of words borrowed from someone else. Another idea you’re parroting because it’s expected of you. Do you have any notion of how easily wisdom degrades into dogma? How easily justice becomes a matter of selfishness? Nothing will destroy your individuality more quickly than your ego, your obsession with performing yourself.

You’re becoming a puppet of yourself, a puppet that can only repeat the same lines, a puppet that can’t even see the world except in the terms it was taught. Everything else is invisible.

It doesn’t matter that you call yourself a radical. All the conservatives believe they’re revolutionaries.

It doesn’t matter that you’ve gotten used to having shit shovelled into your brain. It doesn’t matter that you’ve convinced yourself that it’s wrong to expect more, that it’s elitist, that it’s pretentious.

Fuck that. Fuck the idea that you don’t deserve more. More intelligence. More fun. More meaning. More everything. And not some day in the distant future, when you’re more comfortable. You don’t have the time for that. You’re dying.

Fight to save your mind – from the world, but also from yourself. Don’t wait until later to ask the difficult questions. Don’t expect someone else to ask them for you. Go against the grain – yours and the world’s. Step outside your comfort zone. Read the words of the enemy. Listen to the music of the strangers. Break your own patterns. Invite alien thoughts into your home. Get over your fucking self.

I know you’re tired. I know you think you can leave this for later. I know you feel that you shouldn’t have to do this. The situation isn’t your fault, after all. But here you are. You’re turning into an idiotic puppet, whether you think it’s fair or not. Are you going to save yourself? (Just don’t convince yourself that saving yourself means saving the world, you conceited little shit.)

Your only hope is to run towards the unknown at every opportunity. Challenge yourself. Question yourself. Engage with the world instead of shielding yourself from it. Become a citizen of this stupid, wonderful, bizarre little planet, even if it kills you. It’s going to kill you anyway.

And for fuck’s sake, read a decent book every now and then.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

It’s Christmas here in the Kingdom of Merkel, so I thought I’d share a pretty song.

And don’t forget the very special Merry Satan Christmas Discount which will allow you to purchase award-winning game The Sea Will Claim Everything for only $6.66!

Rebellious Aesthetics and Indie Capitalism

Boots Riley is not only one of my favourite contemporary musicians, he’s also an artist whose politics are radical in a way that seems to be relatively rare in the United States. A while ago he wrote something (in reference to outrage about Urban Outfitters selling a “Vintage Men’s Punk Leather Jacket“) that I thought was really worth sharing and discussing.

Punk and “Underground” Hip-Hop is simply indie capitalism. Indie capitalism is not an answer to our problems, even if it didn’t develop into this.

A rebellious aesthetic is not an actual revolutionary movement.

An aesthetic is always absorbed and used by the class which is in power.

This is why we must have a radical movement that builds its numbers for revolution by using mass direct action to make material changes in the lives of those involved, while making it clear that we are out to create a new system- showing the class structure of the current system, while teaching through example that there is power in numbers and that we can win.

Next up for urban outfitters: whatever revolutionary uniform we’re wearing right now.

This is quite possibly the most succinct phrasing of the problem I have with so much recent “radical” art, whether it’s punk music or indie games: the belief that doing something aesthetically or socially unusual is itself a revolutionary act. And I see why it’s easy to make that mistake: after all, there is definite resistance from the established order! Whether your art is pushing a previously-excluded social identity or a new/rediscovered style or technique, the fact that you have to fight people who quite clearly identify with the system makes you feel like you’re fighting the system itself. But you’re not, and that’s the whole point of calling it a system – its current representatives are part of the machine as much as any worker is, and are just as easily replaced. Their position in society may be a manifestation of the inequality of the system, but they’re not the cause of the inequality – only its face.

Capitalism consists of a set of social relations, not of a group of capitalists. And the social relations of capitalism are all about conflict; capitalism thrives on conflict, and in its eternal quest for compound growth, capitalism loves nothing more than a new market. In fact, capitalism desperately needs new markets, because the existing markets simply cannot provide enough growth to avoid crisis. But when the big, sluggish, corporate world can’t innovate or indoctrinate quickly enough to produce new markets, who can help? Why, it’s the young, flexible, passionate indie capitalist, who has always felt excluded from the mainstream, who wants a new space, a new way of making or selling art… a new market.

And the history of social oppression? Well, that’s doubly fantastic. It means that the new target audience is hungry for art directed exclusively at it, experiencing a kind of nationalistic pride at being able to support artists that belong to the same identity group. And it also means that the pent-up anger of this group can be safely dissipated into “radical” art, the purchase and consumption of which gives the emotionally and politically engaged audience the feeling that they’re doing something for the greater good, that progress towards equality is being made. But all that’s happening is that a new market is being created, and indie capitalists are making money off of it. These new capitalists may be different in some ways (skin colour, clothing, sexuality, gender, aesthetic preferences, religious beliefs, nationality, etc.) but the system itself hasn’t changed in any way, except that representatives of the old order can pat themselves on the back for how “inclusive” and “forward-thinking” they are.

Then, given enough time, the glamour of recently accomplished “change” wears off, and it’s time for another rebellious aesthetic to fight for the right of a small group of people to make a living, never even noticing that “the Man” used to be a rebellious artist himself.

So what’s a politically radical artist supposed to do? Starve?

Many radical artists seem to struggle with that question. They dislike capitalism, so they feel bad about selling things – but they also need to pay the rent. Are they selling out? Are they hypocrites? Often the only way out of this dilemma is to embrace the myth that indie capitalism is somehow morally better than the regular kind, because the money is going to an oppressed person. In this way, they often end up perpetuating the narrative of the exceptional minority: look, this person made it, they’re one of us, they’ve struck a blow for our cause, everything is getting better. This is even less productive than worrying about your own hypocrisy.

The cause of this political and philosophical confusion in radical artists is a very simple error in framing their own situation. If you follow the logic of “the personal is the political” and understand capitalism as a matter of lifestyle, a matter of identity, then the only way to be morally pure is to “drop out” – and given that pretty much the entire world is capitalist at this point, that would mean abandoning civilization itself. The moral anticapitalist will always see a sinner in the mirror, and in every battle to destroy “the capitalists” will manage only to, in the words of Todd Gitlin, “change the color of inequality.”

But understanding capitalism as a system, not a sin, easily solves this problem. Everyone participates in capitalism, not just “the privileged” – capitalism defines and affects the totality of social relations, and no-one is free from it. But no-one is morally responsible for it, either. Rupert Murdoch may be a terrible human being and a blight upon the face of the Earth, but he’s far more a function of the system than he is its owner. Obviously most sane people wouldn’t be particularly sad if a dragon swooped out of the sky and ate him, but nothing much would be changed by this admittedly pleasant turn of events. If we stop fetishizing the personal, we suddenly remember how to see the political.

Letting go of the egocentric moralistic perspective means treating one’s art in a healthier, humbler way. It means not overestimating resistance to one’s aesthetics or identity as a sign that one’s work is inherently revolutionary; it’s also a reminder that genuine revolution has to go beyond art. It’s too easy to believe in one’s own myth and neglect to actually participate in the struggle.

Make your art. Sell your art. Don’t be ashamed. But if you want a revolution, don’t stop there.